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In the late s, Lake Urmia, in north-western Iran , was twice as large as Luxembourg and the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East. Since then it has shrunk substantially, and was sliced in half in , with consequences uncertain to this day, by a km causeway designed to shorten the travel time between the cities of Urmia and Tabriz.
Historically, the lake attracted migratory birds including flamingos, pelicans, ducks and egrets. Effects on humans are perhaps even more complicated. The tourism sector has clearly lost out. While the lake once attracted visitors from near and far, some believing in its therapeutic properties, Urmia has turned into a vast salt-white barren land with beached boats serving as a striking image of what the future may hold. Desiccation will increase the frequency of salt storms that sweep across the exposed lakebed, diminishing the productivity of surrounding agricultural lands and encouraging farmers to move away.
Poor air, land, and water quality all have serious health effects including respiratory and eye diseases. The people of the north west — mainly Azeris and Kurds — are raising their voices. The region is also home to many Kurds, who are demanding a bigger say in the management of the lake to improve the livelihood of Kurdish communities.
Solutions, however, require agreement on the main causes of the problem, and this motivated a group of concerned Iranian researchers in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom to carry out an independent, first-hand assessment beginning in The research undermines any notion of a crisis caused primarily by climate changes. It shows that the pattern of droughts in the region has not changed significantly, and that Lake Urmia survived more severe droughts in the past.
If Lake Urmia is to be revived, the authorities must look urgently at the construction of dams and irrigation projects designed to boost agri-business and meet growing regional water demand.